Saturday, August 1, 2009

Going South

Via Washington Monthly:

A new Research 2000 poll conducted for Daily Kos asked respondents a rather straightforward question: “Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?” Since the president was born in the U.S., ideally, the results would be around 100%. [Click chart to embiggen.]

They weren’t. There was, not surprisingly, a significant partisan gap. Only 4% of Democrats are confused about the president’s place of birth. The number is slightly higher among independents, 8% of whom got it wrong. Among Republicans, though, 28% — more than one in four — believe President Obama was not born in the United States.

For a crazy, demonstrably false, racist idea, these are discouraging numbers.

But I was especially surprised by the regional breakdowns. In the Northeast, West, and Midwest, the overwhelming majorities realize the president is a native-born American. But notice the South — only 47% got it right and 30% are unsure.

Outside the South, this madness is gaining very little traction, and remains a fringe conspiracy theory. Within the South, it’s practically mainstream.

It would be easy to attribute this to the gross generalization that the South is made up of nothing but redneck racists and the last survivors of the Confederacy who can’t get it through their head that a black man is the President of the United States. Generalizations like that are dangerous, so there may be other factors at work, such as age — the older people are, the less likely they are to get their news from other media than talk radio — and political party; the South has been solidly Republican since the success of Nixon’s Southern strategy in 1968 and the appeal Ronald Reagan made to state’s rights in 1980.

Perhaps the more interesting point is that the Republican Party has done very little to discourage this kind of craziness, even while some of their most outspoken supporters like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin have said the birthers are doing more harm than good. And loathe as I am to agree with them, they’re right. The Republicans can certainly find valid points to disagree with President Obama on matters of policy. Adding this layer of flat-earth tin-foil hattery just makes their sales pitch all that much harder. But watching them squirm when the crazies stand up at town hall meetings and scream about Obama being born in Kenya is entertaining, and hearing the up-and-coming leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) try to blame the controversy on the liberal media suggests that the GOP really struggling with this dilemma: come down on the side of sanity, or alienate a group that they know will vote for their candidates.

(PS: Now we find out that not only was President Obama born in Kenya, he’s the anti-Christ.)